Two weeks after having returned to my home city of Austin, I am convinced that what I experienced at the TLC conference in Addison, Texas was more than a professional journey of teaching, learning, coaching… it was without a doubt a venture of the other kind of TLC… tender, loving care.
Infinite ideas of how to inspire teachers gleaned from 4 keynotes and 4 sessions over 2 days alongside 1,000 or so attendees and I find myself fixated on one incredibly simple but extraordinarily profound quote from the consummate professional himself, Jim Knight:
“Make every interaction a masterpiece.”
These words were shared during the opening keynote as Mr. Knight welcomed us to the conference via video format. Imagine how this must have resonated with an educator whose Facebook cover page at the time echoed John Wooden’s famous counsel to make each DAY your masterpiece. Upon hearing his challenge to adapt this sage advice at a more granular level by valuing each INTERACTION throughout the day, I was immediately captivated and intrigued while wondering what other pearls of wisdom I would discover over the next two days.
Doug Fisher’s Opening Keynote: “Visible Learning for Literacy”
Considering that literacy is one of the focus areas in our district being championed by our Superintendent for the current school year, I was naturally eager to hear what the presenter had to share. What I did not expect to hear was his admonishment that we should no longer label our students as struggling readers, but recognize that struggling is situational. In other words, we create situations which engender the struggling experienced by our students. Mind blown as I tweet this remark that takes it beyond gearing instruction around learner needs. These words place the accountability on educators to do better because “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.” Mr. Fisher asked us to think which word resonated with us from this comment. For me, EVERY. Every student. As we work with our teachers to enhance surface learning with learning for transfer, we have to commit to classroom and school practices that are inclusive of all students.
Steve Ventura’s session, “Collective Teacher Efficacy and Collaboration: The Key to Continuous School Improvement”
Just when I was thinking that this particular session might engage me more cognitively due to school improvement being mentioned in the title, the presenter included a quote that connects to the one professed by Mr. Knight and therefore rose to tweetable status as soon as it was uttered. “If your presence doesn’t add value, then your absence will not make a difference”. This was soon followed by inspirational lists of what passionate teachers do not do, and DO.
Here we are, an achievement team of sorts, processing how to promote teacher efficacy in our respective school settings.
During lunch, I had the pleasure of networking with a group of coaches from Iowa and was floored that one district sent and funded such a large contingent to attend a conference out of state. I am always struck by the levels of commitment that administrators demonstrate in dedicating efforts and resources to such a worthy cause… growing their coaches so they can grow their teachers so they can grow their students. A shout out to this team who welcomed me when I could not locate my district colleagues!
And then, it happened. I was reunited with a team of technology design instructional coaches from my district! I am biased, but look at those huge smiles!
Jim Knight’s Lunch Keynote, “#ItStartsWithUs”
So many smiles and laughs during lunch filled my soul and I felt so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful collective of like-minded educators. Little did I know that I would go into the afternoon keynote and cry unabated tears… of rejoice. Had I read the synopsis, I might have been better prepared. But more networking ensued as I stumbled upon a wonderful group from a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Reading the description now, I am once again moved by such compassionate and hopeful words. “We are not helpless in the face of the heartbreaking brokenness we see around us. This is a call to action. We can create a better world, and it starts with us.”
It certainly says a lot about conference organizers who were so willing and ready to modify the topic of the keynote in order to address more pressing issues. By the sheer nature of his words to somehow always resound with a quality of pure gold, I can only share Mr. Knight’s words in a series of quotes that he shared with the audience, intermingled with opportunities for us to engage in dialogue with our tablemates on how we can indeed make every interaction a masterpiece.
“Maybe we should think about re-friending instead of un-friending.”
“Fear is what divides us. Fear is what keeps us from connecting with other people.”
“Judgement is a learning killer.”
“We should aggressively seek commonalities with others.”
Along with a question…
“What would we see if we could look in the hearts and minds of those that we work with?”
And an answer…
“The power of empathy.”
Kristin Anderson’s session, “Building Trust in Adults”
The activity that most resonated with me was the presenter’s request that we replace a word from one of her slides with our own name to see how we adhere to consistency when interacting with others in attempts to establish trust.
Here is the statement with my own name included to help me remain accountable for embracing this crucial leadership strategy:
If you did not attend this session, I also encourage you to do the same by replacing my name with your own. Read it aloud multiple times and it easily becomes a mantra that we will want to incorporate in our daily practice. Our interactions with others cannot be masterpieces without believing in the importance of this simple truth… trust starts with me!
Sheila Heen’s Breakfast Keynote, “Thanks for the Feedback”
Can I just say right off the bat that I would like to be Sheila Heen’s BFF? I think I could have listened to her speak about toothpaste and have been just as engaged. Fortunately, she spoke to us about… soup.
The presenter challenged us to “See ourselves clearly.” Upon working with a partner whom I did not know, I was reminded of how important body language is to any conversation. As I grudgingly watched the video of myself responding to my partner’s feedback, it became apparent why she had expressed feeling guilty for giving me the feedback. In the video, my arms were crossed because I was cold (was I the only one?). My partner misinterpreted that as me being insincere in how I received her feedback. Videos are a powerful tool indeed in revealing our blind spots. It is one that I continually recommend that teachers employ to see what they might be missing in their interactions with students. Are they indicative of a masterpiece, or a flop?
Ainsley Rose’s session, “The Mystery of Influence: Helping Other People Excel”
Though I appreciated the content on how to leverage strategies of influence, my biggest takeaway from this session were the ten slides shared by the presenter toward the end that I felt beautifully qualify what would make an interaction a masterpiece. I see these as being my new ten commandments.
Michael Fullan’s Afternoon Keynote, “Deep Leadership for Whole System Change”
The topic alluded to in the title was a little misleading, but in a very refreshing way. Oftentimes presentations addressing systematic change do not tend to appeal to our affective mind. However, the presenter began with a statement that echoes that of Jim Knight from the first day’s post-lunch keynote. We are told that humans are wired to connect, to create, and to help humanity. The weight of these words once again impacted me in such a way that I begin to wonder too how things went so awry, not just in education but on a larger scale. However, in the context of creating coherence, the presenter impressed me with his ability to infuse a sense of humanity into a talk about systems as he explains how to balance pedagogy and technology in ways that lead to deeper learning for students.
I have always believed that the best educators are the ones who don’t think it is the students’ privilege to be in their classroom; but that it is the educators’ privilege to have the students in their classrooms. In short, the best teachers are the ones who are there to serve their students. So when the presenter shared this model for how to be brilliant in our coaching and in our leadership, I could not help feel excited that others share this conviction.
I was not alone in my appreciation for such a lively presentation to wrap up the two days.
The pictures below illustrate the impact of these aspirational and inspirational slides on the attendees. I was happy to be able to capture such excitement.
To conclude, I am grateful to have been invited to participate as a volunteer. The invitation came at an opportune time in my educational career as the very day before the start of the conference, I embarked on a new professional journey. After 11 years as a French and Spanish teacher followed by 7 years as the World Languages Coordinator, I started a new job as a Coordinator for Educator Effectiveness where I will help support over 6,000 teachers from all content areas.
From 4 keynotes and 4 sessions over 2 days alongside 1,000 or so attendees, one incredibly simple but extraordinarily profound quote emerged and without a doubt, esteemed the conference in my eyes as one of mathemagical proportions. Thank you.
“Make every interaction a masterpiece.”